While scooting behind the wheel, I’m not sure what astonishes me more: the windshield view, or the fact that I’ve gained eyes in back of my head.
I can maneuver a steering wheel or use a hands-free steering device. Gears shift with the touch of a button. The engine, with dual turbochargers, kicks out 373 horsepower, compared to a mere 260 for the average six-cylinder automobile.
I enjoy nearly 360-degree visibility, thanks to external cameras whose positions shift with a quick interior monitor adjustment. Fine ergonomic seating means easy lumbar adjustments (with heated cushions, optional), and my back is grateful.
MP3 and Bluetooth connections? Check. There’s even a concealed cooler for my lunch, big enough to also hold two liter-sized bottles of pop.
The price exceeds $500,000, but this is no Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls or Mercedes McLaren. There is one color choice: bright green, with a sparing but bold touch of yellow trim.
What I’m examining is the S670 John Deere combine, whose fuel tank holds 250 gallons, not to be confused with the grain tank, which holds 300 bushels and can unload it all in about 1.5 minutes.
How astounding that one piece of equipment can cost four times as much as the farm upon which I was raised. Change the header of this monstrous machine, and up to 12 rows of corn are picked at a time. A touchscreen tap means straw is dropped instead of chopped.
The S670 is one of the more elaborate pieces of machinery open for inspection at the remodeled John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill., which explains the humble birth and global growth of the heavy equipment manufacturer. What began as simple plow and tractor production today also encompasses cotton picking to construction and forestry to excavation apparatus.
John Deere was founded 175 years ago by a blacksmith who, with his five siblings, was raised by a seamstress. The father abandoned the family when John was 4 years old.
Admission to the pavilion is free, and the biggest contrast to the S670 is the Model N Waterloo Boy, a two-cylinder tractor that required kerosene and was produced from 1917-24.
“This is what these kids should have to farm with today,” a visitor jokes to his friend. Children and older men are the two biggest demographics which find their way here. Videos, interactive exhibits, a play area and the chance to climb into massive equipment are the lures.
Machine simulators are the same as those used to train professionals, so average people can get a clue about what it feels like to operate heavy equipment. A play area for children teaches what the growing of food requires.
Some of the company’s other inventions make an impact on farming worldwide. Sugar cane harvesters, for example, are transforming the way the crop is processed in Brazil while having a positive effect on the environment. The process becomes more efficient because less cane is hand-picked, so fewer fields need to be burned after a harvest. Heightened production means the availability of more sugar cane for biofuel.
The rarest display is a 1995 Walking Harvester, heavy and experimental equipment that can be used on uneven terrain with only minimal disruption to forested areas. Each leg can be lifted, stretched and manipulated independent of the others. The machine looks like it should roam on the moon. Only two prototypes were made; the other is in Finland.
“At some point, there might be a market for a machine like this – on mountains or an ocean floor,” says Lee Fluck, a retired Deere employee and tour guide.
The John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Dr., Moline, is open daily. For more: johndeerepavilion.com, 309-765-1000. Closed, since 2008, is a nearby tractor restoration area and museum in Moline.
A short drive from the pavilion and also open to visitors are the Deere Wiman House and Butterworth Center, mansions where the family lived. Both are open daily, but call 309-765-7970 for hours.
An equipment display is open for public inspection at Deere & Company World Headquarters. Look for five Grant Wood sketches of rural life near the rest rooms, but don’t expect to wander further than that unless you make a hefty equipment purchase. Only Gold Key holders get the grand tour; that means turning the ignition on your investment and leaving with a gold-plated key.
“You’ll see three generations of a family come in for this, plus the hired hands,” Lee says. “It’s a big day – you go to where the equipment is being built and are the first to start your machine.”
The headquarters is at One John Deere Place, Moline, and the display floor is open daily. Call 800-765-9588 for hours.
Free, weekday John Deere factory tours also are possible at these locations: 1100 13th Ave., Moline, harvester works (combines, headers); 3500 E. Donald St., Waterloo, Iowa, tractor works (125 to 560 hp agricultural tractors); and 3801 W. Ridgeway Ave., Waterloo, engine works.
Reservations at are necessary, at least two days before visiting. Call 800-765-9588 or consult johndeereattractions.com.